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Jesse’s Off His Meds Again

From high school on to college and beyond, I knew a girl by the name of Sally. She was three years or so younger than me, very attractive and gregarious. It’s not surprising that I developed feelings for her. What unfolded over the better part of a decade can be fit into any number of narratives. I could tell a story about a girl who used a boy’s affections for her own emotional enrichment. I could tell a story of a creepy stalker who tried to Nice Guy his way into a friendship. I could tell the tragic tale of the romance that never was. All of these have an element of truth, but none of them are very accurate. It was… whatever it was. She wanted my presence in her life, and I don’t regret my station in it. I don’t regret the time spent. Nor do I regret never doing the “go for it” thing because, even if she hadn’t shot me down, any relationship between the two of us would have had me willing to go to Hell and back for her and her taking me there.

Sally had some problems. More problems than most upper middle-class white girls from the suburbs have, for certain. She had unusually bad taste in boys, even given the givens of high school life. She could have done a lot better than me, but she truly didn’t. She didn’t have great choice in friends, either, despite some exceptions. Ahem. The bigger things, though, involved health. While other kids were undergoing a more typical high school experience, she was battling cancer and cancer treatment. She had a mentally ill mother who blamed her for the cancer that she inflicted on the family. And perhaps most of all, she inherited some of her mother’s condition.

It was the last thing that seemed to involve me more than the others. There were two Sallys. The first Sally was funny and gregarious and a joy to be around. The second was very dark and alternated between extreme anger and inconsolable depression. The first Sally was the one that was taking her medication, while the second was the one who wanted to conquer her problems without it. She was conquered, pretty much every time.

It was, generally speaking, the second Sally that needed me. When things were well with her, she had lots of friends. She had guys lining up around the block to spend time with her. She was going places, doing things, and all was right with the world. What use did she have for me at that point? To be clear, she did not cut me off during these periods. We still chatted on AIM and things were fine. The Second Sally, though, would chat with me for hours. I would wake up and there would be over 100 instant messages airing out her thoughts on what her roommate was doing, her boyfriend was doing, her mother was doing, President Clinton was doing, and so on.

Now on one hand, the attention was nice. Had I truly been an obsessive creep who wanted to swoop in and save her, I would have loved these times because she needed me. But I didn’t. Not just because interactions with Second Sally were less pleasant than with First Sally, but because I genuinely cared about her, and I cared about her whether there was the potential for a relationship at the time or not. For a big chunk of that time, I was in a serious relationship. Other times, I was looking for one. In either case, I genuinely wanted the best for her, and that meant that I wanted her to be taking her medication. I didn’t push her about it any more than gently (“Maybe you can start taking medication again until this passes.”/”No! It’s times like this I need to think most clearly!”) because that wasn’t the kind of support she needed, but that was always a hope.

After Walt’s suicide, I had ceased being able to deal with people suffering from depression without it taking more and more of a toll. At some point, I made the determination that I needed to extricate myself from the lives of some of the people with whom I was (platonically) involved. Sally was one of those people. So I quietly made my exit. I got a new AIM handle and didn’t let everybody in on it. I convinced myself that, ultimately, she would be fine. We did talk a few times afterwards, though, as I would dust off the old AIM account after a friend let me know “Hey, Sally’s been asking about you.” They were pleasant conversations and updates in our lives. I couldn’t tell whether she had improved, or didn’t want to waste limited time with a litany of complaints. But they tapered off and AIM ceased being a primary mode of contact for my subgeneration, and that was that. Until Facebook, anyway.

There are a lot of stories like this that have unhappy endings. I am happy to report that, by most accounts, Sally is not one of these stories. I don’t know whether she finally stopped stopping the medication, she found a new medication that didn’t cloud her mind, or she conquered her demons without medication. But the Sally I see on Facebook is First Sally, for the most part, and not in that way people tell me that everybody acts positively on Facebook. (That’s another post entirely.) She has a fascinating career that has her rubbing elbows with NBA stars and quoted in national newspapers. A couple months ago, for the first time that I’ve seen, her Facebook status was actually changed to “In a Relationship.” It made me smile.


Around the same time I knew Sally, I knew a guy named Jesse. Jesse and I were never as close as Sally and I were. As far as I am concerned, we were never particularly close at all. He wasn’t a bad kid, but if you’re pinpointing the line between Generation X and Millennial, it’s in between him and myself. There was also probably some unseemly resentment on my part for the effortless success he had with the ladies despite being… weird. The vast majority of his group was female. Guys couldn’t get past the weirdness.

He was difficult to talk to. His mind was all over the place. He made jokes that made absolutely no sense. He would find some connection with you, such as having seen an episode from a TV show that ran for three episodes ten years prior, and whenever you met up he would want to talk to you about it. Except that there wasn’t much to say. He also had some mental issues going on, but his were of a different sort than Sally’s. He was not at all dramatic. He mixed together stonerdom and mania. He was smart, but flunked out of high school and ultimately went to the Alternative School and got no higher education than that.

I can’t really say that I ever thought of Jesse as a friend. He mostly falls into a very broad category of people I knew at a general point in my life, like the guy who got drunk on Cuervo and put his hand in a tiki torch flame, or the girl my friend would go visit and make out with so that she would give him some Ranma tapes (we will always be grateful for his sacrifice, though now we may cringe at the immorality of it all).

There was never a 119-part airing of grievances or anything of the sort, but I would wake up some mornings and get a large string of completely nonsensical messages. And I mean completely nonsensical. At some point I would touch base with him, and usually then he would be fine. Like Sally, he talked of medication and his desire to free himself from it. I felt pretty safe assuming the pattern behind First Jesse and Second Jesse. I ended up cutting him out with the AIM handle transition.

We did end up becoming friends on Facebook some time later. Things don’t appear to have changed as much for him, other than that he appears to have a pretty nice job with a major computer company. He leaves nonsensical replies on my posts, as well as some lucid ones.

Sometimes I wake up, though, and I have a barrage of Facebook messages. Typically, it’s a bunch of links to European techno and rock videos. (I have never expressed any interest in European techno and wouldn’t know a Daft Punk or a Rammstein if I heard it.) Sometimes it’s the equivalent of a National Geographic video. I have to admit that a part of me is flattered and endeared by his desire to share something that brings him pleasure with me. The other part of me is kind of sad that Jesse has stopped taking his medications again, and is hopeful that this doesn’t disrupt his employment and personal life.

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Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter. ...more →

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11 thoughts on “Jesse’s Off His Meds Again

  1. Medication for mental conditions is like insulin for diabetics. You cannot just tough your way through the issue. If I eat a candy bar, my blood sugar will go up unless I take insulin. Even if I do the things that make regular people’s blood sugar go down; I could eat a candy bar and go run a mile and my blood sugar would be higher than when I started, unless I took insulin to deal with that candy bar.

    It is not some kind of moral failing to say “hey, the chemistry in my body doesn’t work right and needs assistance”.


    • It’s not always that simple though.

      I used to take SSRIs for clinical depression, and I don’t anymore. I wouldn’t qualify what I do now as “toughing my way through”, but I am jumping over walls that my medicine used to knock down.

      But whatever the benefits for my mental illness, the medicine too often made me physically sick. And, while I didn’t realize it until I stopped taking it, it suppressed my sexuality, which was a big factor in the social isolation of my teenage years that was so linked to my depression.

      The key isn’t that there’s one right way. It’s that there’s no one morally superior way. My choice to not take meds is no more or less valid than someone else’s choice to take them. Likewise, my boyfriend’s choice to rely on an insulin pump to permit him a high-carb diet is no more or less valid than my grandmother’s choice to eat a low-carb diet. In each case, the decision relies on the specifics of the medical situation (not all depression is the same, not all diabetes is the same) and factors related to personal preferences and habits (my grandmother has a broad palate and a shelf full of recipe books. My boyfriend is such a picky eater that any dietary restrictions on top of that would see him starve.)


      • In most cases of clinical depression, the best treatment is medication and cognitive therapy. People invariably stop taking the medication for the reasons you describe, and are at risk of suicide during the withdrawal period, some argue worse than had no medication been taken at all.


        • Plus the increased suicide risk when people start the pills. Supervision by a doctor is important for medical changes in either direction. Sadly, I didn’t have that. I quit taking my medicine because it suddenly became unavailable in the US, and I was in college and not under the care of a local doctor who could be aware of this and prescribe a replacement. I didn’t so much as decide to stop taking it as decide to not start taking it again once that was an option.

          But that’s one of the things that really matters when it comes to such meds. When I was first put on them in my pre-teens, I was under the care of a family doctor, who referred me to a regular specialist. In my adult life, I’ve never had that same stability of medical care. If I get to the point where I see the same doctor three times in a row again, I might reconsider my decision.


  2. I am intimately familiar with multiple people who are supposed to be taking psychotropic medication, and I’m not just talking about SSRIs for depression.

    One of them is now committed to it, and as a result is consistently much better off. The other two can’t seem to figure it out. I think the biggest difference between them is age. I think young people under the age of 25 have a very hard time accepting the idea that they need to take the medication. Watching them go off, and knowing that you have no ability to change what they are doing is pretty tough.

    And in that mix you will see people who went off something and say, “Yeah, I beat it. I don’t have to take those.” Considering how often people I love have said that and been wrong, it’s hard to listen to.


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